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Sample Poems by Larry Johnson
Hangover in Memory of James Wright
Clotted phlegm knots my throat.
Arid, spumy spit clouds from my mouth
like spider sacs.
My eyebrows have termites,
and I’ve never even been to Minnesota, James.
Your life wasn’t wasted. If anybody
reads and loves this poem
mine won’t be, either. My best friend
once said that most poems have
an ordered group of images and a patchwork philosophy
tacked on. My Coke gets flatter. Let them find
You were lifted, at that instant, to
whatever novalike plane it was that caused
the water moccasin to carry those fish in its mouth
from their drying pond to its own, full and fresh;
that caused the giant sea turtle to keep that woman afloat for three days. I sometimes
bite my tongue in my sleep.
For All Hostages
When the revolutionaries come,
burning my Wallace Stevens and Saint-Saëns,
will I regret I chased
women and men like a fleshy mist,
wanting to plunge in and suffocate
but rarely even feeling short of breath,
that I loved boyish girls and girlish boys,
loved whiskey almost more than either,
that I tempered drink and lust, so surviving
to stand there in the smoke and broken glass?
Will I have written those poems—so excellent
that they’ll be burned as well,
remembering then that words are souls themselves,
they tune the eons of our hiving blood,
that no flung torch will spread such
that God is an impostor, not a star,
that love splits night’s carapace,
revealing pulpy heaven.
Jean Sibelius Bags a Soviet Plane, 1948
The maestro’s yard, near mossed, penumbral pines,
Echoes the bluesteel hunting rifle’s crack:
The fighter circles, wings off—was it a Yak
9 or Mig 3? No matter. Another shines
In cloudsifted sun, dropping lower. He fires again,
Leading the target this time with a vow
To sacrifice his frozen Eighth if now
He pierces the smirking aircraft, causes pain
For one damned Russian cog . . . so slivery smoke
Trails from the engine. A wobble. The pilot turns
East, igniting oil billows out. Fate’s joke,
He thinks, watching the smeared speck as it burns,
Roils brumy below horizon, its soundless crash
Too soon avenged by his music’s snowclean ash.
Mal de Siècle (I)
Richtofen’s eyes locked on eighty planes:
Eighty tarnished the earth with streaming dust—
His body, data flowing in its veins,
Printed crosshairs on his retinas.
But for all the strutted extensions of his bones,
A tall, black-silkened woman came to him
When he lay wounded—identity unknown
Yet faithfully apparent: was she a slim
Tissued elixir contacting his heart’s red spark,
That creature condensing in every hero’s sheen?
Or did she rise from the swarthy cross—stark
As death’s footprint on his scarlet triplane, stung
From suffering, merely to vanish? Gasoline,
Dope, wine, blood, fire failed him. He died young.